Culinary Tourism Matches Regional Foods and Regional Wines
By Patricia Nicholson
There's a reason why Canada's wineries attract tourists seeking fine culinary experiences. In many wine regions, tours offer meals featuring
not only local wines, but also regional menus featuring fresh, locally grown foods.
Toronto-based sommelier Zoltan Szabo says this approach to regional cuisine is gaining momentum in Canada.
"There are a lot of chefs adopting the idea: local produce, vegetables, meat, cheeses and everything else to be paired up with local wine," he says. "And frankly we're not doing anything out of the ordinary. We're doing what's normal anywhere else."
In other parts of the world such as France, Spain and Portugal, local specialties accompanied by local wines have always been standard fare. While the classic gastro regions are ahead of Canadian regions by about 2000 years of history, Szabo says we are catching up fast.
Niagara, Ontario is Canada's biggest wine region. It's home to 70% of Canada's viticulture, Szabo says. The other 30% goes on in B.C.'s Okanagan Valley, Nova Scotia and parts of Quebec.
The major grape varieties for Ontario's white wines are chardonnay, Riesling and Vidal, Szabo says. While the main focus remains on chardonnay, Szabo says Ontario may be capable of producing world-class Rieslings.
Vidal grapes produce many of Canada's renowned ice wines. This hybrid grape can survive harsh winters, and doesn't fall from the vine when it freezes.
For Ontario red wines, some of the most prominent grapes are gamay, pinot noir and cabernet franc, but growers also produce other varieties such as cabernet sauvignon and Shiraz, as well as hybrids, Szabo says.
Further east, Nova Scotia is making a name for itself with sparkling wines. And while Quebec wine growers are producing what Szabo calls "funky hybrids," the province is also known for cider production. The province is dotted with small cideries producing artisan ciders of such gastronomic interest that the Monteregie region has designated a Cider Route.
In the west, the Okanagan Valley's warmer climate produces Bordeaux blends, cabernet sauvignon, Shiraz, and merlot, as well as chardonnay, Riesling, and some interesting hybrids, Szabo says.
Pairing up the products of Canada's vineyards with the products of its fields and farms is what makes regional cuisine. But the "rules" according to Szabo are that there are no real rules when it comes to food and wine matching-just personal taste.
He suggests focusing on aroma and flavour similarities, and the texture and weight of the dish and the wine-although he adds that these elements can also be contrasted.
Okanagan's microclimate produces riper fruits and fruitier wines than cooler, eastern regions. In Ontario wines, it's the backbone of acidity that makes them so welcome at so many tables, Szabo says.
"They're very versatile due to the fact that they have a good spine of acid, mature flavour development, and tannins," he says of Ontario reds.
"Acid is a flavour enhancer," he explains. "That's what chefs use. They use salt to enhance flavour, and acid: a dash of lime or lime juice. Why do we cook with wine" Because of its acidity, not because of adding aroma and flavour . . . that's gone in five minutes as soon as you bring a sauce or reduction to boil: alcohol evaporates but the acid stays."
Szabo uses the example of a freshwater fish fillet, for which the perfect accompaniment is an acidic flavour enhancer: a little squeeze of lemon juice.
"Well, why not pair it up with a nice, crisp, fruity, lemony Riesling? The Riesling wine would act in the same way as the little dash of lemon. Simple. Food and wine matching is not rocket science."
Ultimately, it comes down to the individual palate, Szabo says.
"It's an easy, healthy mentality towards food and wine," he says. "That's what eventually will get more people to try it, more people to experience it, more people to love it and develop a passion for it."
Sommelier Zoltan Szabo offers wine recommendations-complete
with his tasting notes-to accompany some dishes
that highlight regional produce.
Tomato and goat cheese
tart with basil
2006 Sauvignon Blanc,
Peninsula Ridge, Niagara
Uber-pale with light jade green hue. Fragrances of Persian lime and grapefruit with just hints of fresh cut grass and limestone. Light, dry and very fresh with a clean, zesty, green orange finish. Great for spring/summer.
Roasted baby beet salad with summer greens, crumbled blue cheese, walnuts
and balsamic vinaigrette
Slightly chilled 2005 Gamay, Huff Estates,
Prince Edward County
Deeper than typical colour. Currants, blueberry and very spicy, peppery, cardamom nuances on the nose. Light to medium bodied with fresh acidity, pleasant tannins, dry and spicy finish.
Mussels with summer vegetable ratatouille
2006 Rose, Fielding, Niagara
Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Syrah.Bright pink with aromas of red berry punch and some floral. Medium bodied, dry with great freshness, with easy tannins adding some structure. Great with food.
Cedar salmon with grilled asparagus
2006 Riesling, Joie, Naramata (BC)
Peach and floral, some minerals on the bouquet. Light, off dry with stone fruit flavours, medium intensity acidity and finish.
Summer fruit desserts, such as fresh raspberry mousse or traditional peach crumble
2004 Select Late Harvest Vidal, Strewn, Niagara
Honeyed nose of peach syrup, apricots and raisin. Sweet, but not overbearing, with a long finish.